Overview: Legendary character actor Stephen Tobolowsky tries to get to the root of the question, “Why do we tell stories?” 2015; FilmBuff; Not Rated; 73 Minutes.
The Origin of a Story: The Primary Instinct is a documentary concert film that is adapted from the podcast The Tobolowsky Files, which was originally adapted from a movie, Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party (2005). It is a unique journey for art only possible in the current age of podcast popularity. Director David Chen and the aforementioned Stephen Tobolowsky began The Tobolowsky Files in 2009. The podcast consists mainly of Tobolowsky telling stories about “life, love and the entertainment industry”, as described by host Chen, with some of them connecting to other episodes of the podcast. The Primary Instinct follows a similar format, with Tobolowsky telling a string of connecting stories at the Moore Theater in Seattle, WA.
The Tobolowsky Files: In order to properly describe my thoughts on The Primary Instinct, I must first address my feelings on The Tobolowsky Files. I have been a listener of The Tobolowsky Files since 2013, and have listened to about two-thirds of the current 71 episodes to date. After just a handful of episodes I came to learn what just about anyone would learn after listening to Tobolowsky’s stories, that he is as gifted of a storyteller as there has ever been. His voice, delivery, and content weave a perfect symmetry of intrigue, comedy, and emotional gravity. The most direct and simple description is that he is a master of the art. His stories cover a broad range of true life experiences and if told by any normal person, would seem wildly fabricated and hyperbolic. They are inspiring and profoundly moving.
The highest praise I can bestow is from a personal perspective. The last two years of my life, nearly coinciding with my patronage of the podcast, have been the most trying of my existence. Tobolowsky’s stories helped me greatly though this. They seemed to appear at the perfect time to provide inspiration, comfort, and therapy when most needed. It was like having my own therapist on call, except there were no uncomfortable sit downs and invasive questions, just soothing remedy by way of storytelling. Several factors contributed to me being here at this moment to share my experience, and these stories are as important as any one of them. I laughed, smiled, contemplated existence, and at times openly wept because of Tobolowsky’s stories, and I can’t thank David Chen and Stephen Tobolowsky enough for what they’ve done.
The Art of Storytelling: The Primary Instinct encompasses everything I have felt for the podcast in a succinct package. The setup for the show is a question Tobolowsky received at a previous performance; an eight year old boy asked him “Why do people tell stories in the first place?” and then followed up with, “Why did you tell stories to begin with?” Tobolowsky then expounds on several tales, knitting a tapestry that comprises some of the best stories in his repertoire. He has a seemingly endless supply of tales with either relatable emotional significance or once in a lifetime anecdotes. His performance is not unlike that of an expert comedian. There is the setup, then the body with the string of stories (jokes) that lay the groundwork, and finally the wrap up that rounds back to the thesis and provides a defined conclusion. Tobolowsky is adept at the pacing and beats of an engaging story and when it ends viewers will be craving more. It is truly a wonder to listen and watch.
The Primary Instinct: Tobolowsky defines the primary instinct as “transcendence.” He describes that “More than survival, more than happiness, we are overcome with the desire to reach beyond ourselves, even if it means destruction…” Whether you have previously listened to The Tobolowsky Files or have no knowledge of it or who Stephen Tobolowsky is, The Primary Instinct is a joy to experience.
Overall: Everyone likes a good story, and Tobolowsky goes beyond the preconceived concept of what a good story is. If you have the capacity to feel, you will leave The Primary Instinct in touch with said ability, whatever that may mean for you.